Farm to fork, Laos to South Sac

From Laos to Thailand and now South Sacramento, the seeds survived.Gardener

They have been buried in the rich soil at each stop and nurtured to life by Khoua Lee, a woman who was born to garden.

“If I do not plant my seeds, they will die,” Khoua says. “So I have to plant them to be able to have more seeds to grow somewhere else.”

Before escaping to Thailand from her homeland in Laos, Koa collected corn and vegetable seeds. Wherever the family moved, she planted more seeds, ensuring that everyone would have food to eat at the end of harvest season.

“Growing up in Laos, my family and I lived on the mountains,” she says. “The only way for us to get our food was to grow it.”

When Koa, 58, and her husband Dang Vang, 72, arrived in the United States with their family, they settled in Dallas. After two years in Texas, they began to look toward Sacramento, where they had relatives.

Khoua and her family have now been living in the Kennedy Estates apartment complex in South Sacramento for 10 years. One aspect of the community was especially appealing – the gardens.

“When I came to this apartment, there were many gardeners,” Khoua says. “But then, they slowly moved out of the apartments. Now, no one is gardening or taking care of this garden. So then I started to take care of it all.”

Khoua and her husband can be found in the garden every day, from morning until night. They are the only residents left in the apartment complex with knowledge and experience in gardening.

CornIn the garden, Khoua keeps it simple. Her methods pay respect to the mountains of Laos.

“In my country, the only corn we grow is call sticky corn. They are easy to grow and you can plant its seeds again,” she says.

Khoua do not sell her produce. But she enjoys sharing the fruits of her labor with her family and community members at parties, funerals and other events. She and her husband intend to garden forever.

“When there comes a day I cannot walk or move, I will stop gardening,” Khoua says. “But if I can still walk and move, I will keep gardening.”

Alisa Xiong

About Alisa Xiong
Ms. Xiong is an on-camera interviewer for the Hmong Report on Crossings TV, and is continuing her studies at California State University, Sacramento. Her passions are photography and community service, and she is uniquely interested in telling stories about the Hmong community. Her volunteer service includes assisting My Sister’s House, which provides shelter to women escaping violence.


  1. wavery clemons says

    Great story Alisa. I enjoy learning about your culture through your gift of story-telling. The facts of how your culture survived can only be told by your culture. I’m thankful to know you and to learn from you. I will have to stop by that garden and gets some tips from Khoua.

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